March 24, 2021 | Daniel Scoullar
Over the past two years a community legal centre in Melbourne's north has expanded access to lawyers specialising in alcohol and other drug use to the Darebin municipality. The Fitzroy Legal Service (a merger of Darebin Community Legal Centre & Fitzroy Legal Service), is delivering this new service in partnership with Uniting ReGen and YSAS.
The Drug Lawyer Outreach Program provides both once-off legal advice and referrals and extended support through case work. This casework support is available for as long as needed and includes representing clients in court proceedings.
A large number of clients assisted had other serious issues in addition to addiction, with mental health issues (75%) and homelessness (42%) being the most common. Half of all clients were under 30 years of age.
Senior lawyer, Adam Willson, said this illustrated the importance of access to lawyers for this group.
"In both Yarra and Darebin this outreach approach is supporting members of our community faced with huge challenges. Our community partnerships enable us to stay with each client through ups and downs and give them the best possible outcomes in court and beyond the legal system."
The outcomes from the first two years working in Darebin have been excellent and reflect the strong results already achieved in Yarra.
The first major outcome was the alleviation of stress and reduced anxiety from clients around their legal matters. Workers had more confidence that their clients were getting the legal assistance they needed compared with the uncertainty of accessing a duty lawyer on the day of court proceedings. This supported more effective AOD recovery as well.
The second major outcome was positive resolution of criminal and other legal issues. Nearly 75% of clients who faced court on criminal proceedings succeeded in having no conviction recorded and getting referral to appropriate community programs. Only 14% of clients received an outcome that the program considered worse than expected.
Fitzroy Legal Service CEO, Claudia Fatone, said community legal centres are well-equipped to provide legal support to individuals with complex needs.
"The complexity of working with people facing court while also dealing with addiction, mental illness and homelessness cannot be underestimated. The way community legal centres work in partnership with health and housing services is unique and a model that needs to be extended. We are hoping the Victorian Government will extend our work in the upcoming Victorian Budget."
Find out more about the work of the Fitzroy Legal Service at www.fitzroy-legal.org.au.